LISTEN: As Congress Reconvenes, Romney Reflects on Last Year and Outlines Priorities for Year Ahead

Talks China threat, government funding, national debt, infrastructure, and more with KSL’s Boyd Matheson

WASHINGTON—As Congress reconvenes, U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) today joined KSL’s Inside Sources with Boyd Matheson to reflect on the last year and outline his priorities for 2024. They discussed a range of topics including the national debt—which surpassed $34 trillion last week—the growing threat of China, the bipartisan infrastructure bill’s continued benefits for Utah, and the outlook on government funding.

Boyd Matheson: We’ve moved into the new year, and there’s a big list of to-dos on Congress’s schedule. But we want to get some perspective in terms of where we’ve been over the last year and what that might tell us, how it might inform our decision making as we move into 2024 and beyond. And to help us do that, we’re really thrilled to have joining us on the program today, Mitt Romney, Senator from the State of Utah.

Senator Romney: Well, thank you, Boyd. Good to be back in the saddle here. And a lot is happening. We’ll see if we can get things across the finish line, but at this stage it looks promising.

On countering the China threat:

Matheson: I want to start with China, because I think that’s continuing to be a major issue. We know we have elections coming up in Taiwan this coming weekend.

Romney: Well, there’s no question but that China is our major competitor on the world stage, and they intend to replace us to become the economic and military superpower; to have our currency replaced by their currency as the world’s reserve currency; to be able to call the shots anywhere in the world. I mean, they have pretty ambitious objectives, and they’ve developed a game plan for achieving that. Unfortunately, our country has not put together a game plan to push back against them in the various parts of the world where they’re acting. And the leader of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—a Democrat—and myself, did fashion legislation calling on the Administration with the help of outside experts, to develop a strategy that will push back against China and we’re encouraged that we’re receiving information about what they’re doing, what we need to be doing. And we have a piece of legislation on China that I think will ultimately get a vote in the Senate and the House this year, designed to finally have America take the initiative as opposed to always be responding to what China is doing.

Matheson: One component to that I’d love to have you play out just a little for us, Senator, because it does impact us here in the state of Utah, as well, and that is the need to bolster our domestic critical mineral capabilities, which impacts so many different things and our dependence on China for a host of things.

Romney: You know, China was acting brilliantly, to tell you the truth, while we were asleep at the switch. They were going around the world buying up critical minerals—cobalt, lithium, nickel, and so forth. They were buying these things around the world—the mines where they’re mined or the processing facilities such as they basically dominate almost all of the critical elements that are necessary for manufacturing the products of tomorrow. And we’ve let them do that without even competing to purchase these things ourselves. So, we have insisted that now with new legislation, that we evaluate where we are, that we use our funds strategically to help get some of these resources for ourselves, that we carry out a complete audit of our military readiness with regards to those minerals as well. So, there’s a lot that we’ve finally got to be doing. The sad thing is it’s taken us, well, almost a decade to finally figure out that, hey, we got to we got to begin to act here to make sure that we have the materials we need to manufacture the products that go into our defense capabilities, as well as our economy.

On the bipartisan infrastructure bill’s continued benefits for Utah:

Matheson: One of the other bipartisan efforts that you were a part of last year dealing with infrastructure. Give us a sense in terms of the trickle down of that and the impact here in the state of Utah.

Romney: Yeah, the good news is that that we were able to help draft the infrastructure bill, which was passed and has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars…coming into Utah—water projects, transportation projects, everything from widening highways to getting new vehicles for our track system. There are all sorts of elements that needed to be refurbished and are being refurbished as a result of the funds that were put in that infrastructure bill. And it’s something that, frankly, I think Republicans and Democrats agree on, which is if you invest in infrastructure, you make the economy able to move more quickly, you create more jobs, and you enhance our economic strength, which can then be turned into our military strength, as well.

On the mounting national debt:

Matheson: I want to make sure we spend some time focused on an initiative that you and Senator Manchin have put forward in terms of the overall fiscal health and stabilizing the debt. Because I think if we don’t have this conversation first, all the other questions just aren’t going to last and aren’t going to matter in the end.

Romney: Yeah, I agree with you. And the sad news is that our state is the only state in the nation that lists the deficit and the debt as a major political issue…I don’t know why, but there just hasn’t been much attention paid to the fact that we have over $33 trillion in national debt and we’re spending almost as much on interest on the debt as we spend on our military. I mean, how are we going to keep up with China and Russia, for that matter, if we’re spending as much on interest as we do on our military?

It’s unthinkable. So, Senator Manchin and I have put forward legislation to call for a commission…to be established, bipartisan, that comes up with a plan to get us to a balanced budget, to reduce the amount of deficit annually, and to get our debt down. This has to happen…We’ve got to change our revenues and our spending. We cannot continue to add massive more debt to our national balance sheet or the implications for the future are dire indeed.

On the outlook for government funding:

Matheson: Give us some of the short term in terms of what you expect to see in the coming days. Obviously, the January 19th deadline is a first component. February 2nd, ironically or maybe tragically, is Groundhog Day. It feels like we’ve been through this shutdown showdown before. Give us some sense in terms of what the conversations are and where you hope they’ll go moving forward.

Romney: …There’s this battle that’s been going on, which is that the majority leader, whether it’s Republican or Democrat, typically doesn’t want to see the normal process with lots of votes and amendments. Instead, they want everything to be held up until the very last minute where they can craft a bill basically by themselves and say, “Take it or leave it! If you don’t pass this, the whole government shuts down!” And that’s what Chuck Schumer’s been doing so far. He’s the Democratic leader, as you know. He has not been moving the appropriations bills. They came out of committee back in July. And we haven’t voted on the 12 that have come out. We’ve only voted on three of them. We need to get these votes done. My guess is you’re going to see the deadline come and go. We’re going to have another continuing resolution for, I don’t know, 30 days or 45 days or 15 days to give more time for votes. But we’re insisting on votes on individual bills with amendments so we can try and cut out some of the unnecessary spending.

Matheson: Very important. Before I let you go, Senator, just give us a quick snapshot of some of the things in terms of Ukraine, Israel, border security. All of those things have kind of been wrapped together. Do those need to be decoupled? How do you expect to see those play out in the days ahead?

Romney: You know, I think it’s likely that you’ll continue to see funding for Israel, Ukraine and an effort to [secure] the border. Those will continue to be combined. It’s possible to be pulled apart. I don’t think so at this stage. Look, let me note with regards to Ukraine. It is in our interest to see Ukraine succeed. If we walk away from Ukraine, that says to the world you can’t count on America. One, [we] committed to help Ukraine in a circumstance like this so we need to follow through on our word. But number two, Russia represents a threat to people throughout Europe. And if we just walk away, then Europe is going to walk away from us. And as we face a more assertive China, we need the help from our friends—we need to have friends—it’s one of our great advantages as America is that we have friends around the world. If we’re not willing to stand with our friends when they’re in need, they will not be with us. So, it’s in our interest to help Ukraine and see them succeed…

So, I think you’re going to see a border bill that finally closes down, to a certain degree, the mess we’ve got at the border. The Biden people and Chuck Schumer are fighting that tooth and nail. But we’re going to keep on battling and hopefully get that done in the next few weeks here.